Normandy wartime children remember bombs, destroyed towns, and chewing gummy

Some of the children who lived in Normandy during the D-Day invasion, which liberated France from Nazi Germany and brought an end to the Nazi occupation, recalled their fear, the bombs, and the destruction.

Thousands of Allied troops died on the beaches of Normandy on 6th June 1944. But so did French civilians, both on that day and in the months of the Battle of Normandy which followed.

Michel Finck, a seven-year-old boy at the time, cried as he recalled the event on Wednesday, before a ceremony led by French president Emmanuel Macron, in Saint-Lo in Normandy, a city that was nearly destroyed during the D-Day bombings.

“Our house has been destroyed.” Families on our street were decimated. We also lost our family transport business and left for Cherbourg, a town more than 80 kilometers away,” Finck, 87 years old, recalls.

He and his brother left on foot. They were helped by German soldiers to cross a bridge at one point.

“There were bombs and planes… This is not something that you can forget easily,” he said to Reuters as he shed more tears. The family was able to survive and later moved back to Saint-Lo.

Emmanuelle Lejeune told Reuters that “this trauma transformed our city into a ‘capital in ruins’ as Samuel Beckett described it.” At the time, 90% of the city’s 12,000 residents were destroyed. Only two streets remained intact.

Colette Poirier was four years old at the time and lived in nearby Belval. She remembers how, on June 6, in the early morning hours, she and her family tried to sleep outside to hide from the planes.

She has also happier memories.

The next day, we saw jeeps filled with Black soldiers. It was the first time that I saw Black men. They also gave out chewing gums! We were eager to try them because we hadn’t eaten much sugar in the war. But we didn’t know how to eat it.”

Poirier claimed that German soldiers occupied her family’s farm and she began speaking German as a child. She said she was surprised at how quickly France and Germany reconciled at that time.

Fick and Poirier waited for Macron to deliver a speech to pay tribute to the civilian victims of D-Day in Saint-Lo.

On Thursday, there will be more ceremonies with world leaders in attendance including U.S. president Joe Biden and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

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